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January 16, 2019
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Pakistan-US Relations: Dawn of a new horizon or yet another illusion?

President Trump showed the willingness to have a great relationship with Pakistan’s new leadership on Wednesday, 2nd January 2019. The statement that was given in front of the media, initiated a discussion between the United States and Pakistan on the proposal for arranging a meeting between the two heads of states.

It is a positive step forward in the Afghanistan peace process? The two nations, Pakistan and US, are also resting their hopes in this seemingly new beginning. But is it something real or is it another illusion with no grounded foundation?

Pakistan is passing through the worst economic crisis in its history. The nation is counting seconds for a major breakthrough, which the Prime Minister Imran Khan and his team are struggling to deliver. At the same time, on the diplomatic front, the Pakistan government has adopted an aggressive policy, which is rewarding on multiple fronts. Pakistan is reconnecting with its friends, reclaiming its geopolitical position globally, which was lost in the past 10 years. Moreover, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi is one of the most effective ministers from the present cabinet, with achievements worth appreciating.

Trump’s government shut down has already entered the second week, with no solution to the Mexico wall issue. The pressure is mounting from multiple directions as 2020 United States presidential elections are getting close. President Trump and his government have to present an impressive scorecard to compliment the hopes he raised in the hearts and minds of his voters. Afghanistan and Syria reconciliation can be that needed star in the scorecard. Trump and Pentagon believe that Pakistan can play a critical role in that endeavor.

Donald Trump is aiming for a sustainable and graceful exit from Afghanistan, and Syria. US Defence Secretary James Mattis’s resignation after the President announced troop withdrawal from Syria, is reflecting uprising differences and resistance.

President Trump has shown his reservation about Pakistan’s role in the past and reasserted his decision to suspend the $1.3 billion aid to Pakistan. However, he needs Pakistan to play its role in ensuring a quick, sustainable, and the substantial solution to the Afghan issue.

President Trump is known for his impulsive talks and reaction, but this change of perspective is deeper than that. Zalmay Khalilzad, special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation and peace process had very rigid views about Pakistan in the past.

In his last visit to Pakistan on 4th December 2018, he met with political and army leadership in which he convinced, updated, and satisfied them on the progress on Afghan peace process. It clearly identifies the change in approach and the new US policy towards Pakistan.

Pakistan has reciprocated the gesture and expectations in a positive manner. Pakistan has played a pivotal role in the third round of US-Taliban talks held in UAE, which are regarded as the most substantial formal talks, determining the future direction of the US military presence in Afghanistan. It was the first talks held outside Qatar, and the participation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and UAE complimented its success.

Pakistan’s role has been central to the whole process. Pakistan has successfully bridged the gap between the Taliban leadership, Afghanistan government, and US-led NATO forces. In the case of the US forces withdrawal, the role of Pakistan, UAE, and Saudi Arabia will amplify more to ensure sustainable peace in the region.

Furthermore, President Trump is more comfortable, accommodating, open and flexible with leaders with a strong personality. His dealing with Kim Jong-un, Xi Jinping, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Dr. Mahathir Bin Mohamad, and Vladimir Putin is an example of this personality attribute.

Prime Minister Imran Khan is known for his strong and indestructible persona, which can be the cornerstone of an advantageous meeting between two globally significant leaders.

Pakistan-US relation is on the verge of a quantum leap, but it will need a strategic vision and commitment from both sides. In the past, Pakistan-US relation was developed or dumped as and when needed, which resulted in a lack of trust, confidence, and transparency from both sides. Reservations and doubts dominate the dealing which hampers the evolution of a maintainable, lasting, and rewarding relationship.

It is the right time to change that. Pakistan-US relation should be based on mutual trust and respect, leading to mutual gains. Pakistan came across such opportunities in the past as well, which were either compromised for petty individual gains or wasted because of wrong decisions.

Now the responsibility rests with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s leadership and his government to extract the maximum advantage from the available opportunity, and channelize its benefit towards Pakistan and its people.